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Use Hollywood storytelling to transform your brand into a 21st century powerhouse

Use Hollywood storytelling to transform your brand into a 21st century powerhouse

Jeff Barber | September 11, 2015

What does Apple have in common with The Walking Dead and Coca-Cola?

All three redefined their industries, took the lead, and maintained that lead over time. And they’re all transmedia brands.

Apple transformed itself into the world’s most-valuable publicly-traded company by launching a powerful transmedia brand story arc. That arc revealed Apple’s vision of a connected digital media future and the stylish, vertically integrated product line they built to deliver the vision.

What defines a transmedia brand? Hollywood transmedia franchises—and highly successful 21st century businesses like Apple and Coca-Cola—align their brand, their products, and their marketing campaigns with an all-encompassing story world and a transmedia strategy where the story and the brand are integrated into a holistic experience.

Key characteristics of a transmedia brand

1. The brand is founded on a powerful ‘why’ that makes a real difference in the lives of its customers.

Apple didn’t happen by accident.

As Simon Sinek said in his popular TED talk: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And if you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.”

Apple leveraged their transmedia brand by growing a customer base of fans that resonated with why they were doing it. They continued to evolve and to deliver on their brand promise as they grew.

All companies exist to serve humanity. In order to cut through all the media noise, your invitation to enter your world must declare your “why” to resonate with your customers.

2. The company history and the brand story unite in a powerful arc or heroic journey that naturally expresses on multiple platforms.

According to Dr. Pamela Rutledge, a media and brand psychologist, “Successful brands are able to show who they are through the way they tell stories and engage their audience. A good brand storyteller knows how to tell the story so that it’s true to the brand while creating an entry point for the consumer.”

Dr. Seuss offers a simple universal story arc that we can all follow. Apple’s successful campaigns nicely map to this arc. For example, Apple’s iconic Get a Mac campaign introduced a suit-wearing nerd as the PC user—the status quo—and a scruffy millennial as the protagonist Mac user. PC creates conflict by touting his business acumen. Mac counters with how much easier and richer his life is. PC escalates. Mac calmly dominates with typical Mac superiority. PC concedes. The new status quo is established.

3. The brand’s marketers understand that customers expect a seamless, engaging cross-platform user experience. They push the boundaries to deliver innovative experiences that entertain, educate, and listen.

Jason Thibeault, senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks, insists that marketers must break away from traditional approaches to capitalize on digital behaviors: “… as marketers continue to adopt the role of ‘storyteller’ in a world where users are engaging with their content across multiple devices … Transmedia storytelling might be the best solution to organizing that content into a cohesive story that appeals to this new generation of consumers.”

Participation is a key to the success of your transmedia strategy. Think beyond the now-traditional mobile-social-local paradigms. Will you create product launches that inspire your customer-fans to line up for blocks to buy your newest product? Will you give them free mobile minutes for coming to use your self-service kiosk? Or challenge them to fight their way through a hoard of zombies to get to safety?

Most importantly, make sure your experiences provide ways for your customers to be heard. As Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, says: “the key to successful corporate and brand transmedia narratives is in listening. When a company can demonstrate that it understands and sympathizes with the consumer, and that it is prepared to stand on its integrity, they're willing to hear you out and give you a chance.”

Realize your transmedia brand strategy

Ready to get started? Make your transmedia brand strategy a reality in five easy steps. Keep in mind that the steps may vary depending on your company’s maturity and the elements you’ve already put in place. For example, the strategy for a start-up may look fairly different from a company with 100+ years of operating history.

1. Create a transmedia story world bible and customer journey map

How can your brand values and your “why” be translated into story elements? How has your company disrupted the status quo in your industry and set a new standard in the marketplace?

A story world bible (see section 2 in my earlier post for an example) is a powerful tool used by successful transmedia franchises to articulate vision and provide a recipe for creating campaigns and media that resonate with the story world’s theme and story arc.

The customer journey map defines points of entry into your brand story world and the paths they can follow to connect with your brand, learn about your products and services, and become a customer.

Together, your bible and journey map provide team members in business, creative, and technical functions with the context for completing the next steps.

2. Audit your existing platforms, channels, and media

Is your existing marketing content and approach aligned with your story world bible and customer journey?

It’s important to remember that people today know your brand by your past content and user experiences. Before you make the investment to recreate everything, evaluate what you have. Does it resonate with your why? Can it serve as a point of entry into your newly-created story world? Does it have a place within that story world?

It may be that you need to start fresh to create your brand story world. However, an authentic mix of old and new content can be a powerful way to tell your brand story and maintain a connection with your history and your existing customers.

3. Evaluate your enterprise content management and analytics strategies

How will you measure and analyze your new customer journey to gauge its effectiveness?

Maintaining a compelling story world in today’s multi-platform marketplace requires fast and reliable business intelligence and the ability to determine if a campaign or a content item is working or not. If you are still operating on Web 1.0 technology platforms or silos of content, you simply won’t be able to compete in today’s digital business environment.

An effective transmedia strategy demands enterprise content management with business intelligence integrated across mobile, social, web, and traditional marketing platforms.

4. Perform a gap analysis to identify areas for investment

Where do you need to invest in order to realize your brand story world?

The first three steps provide you with a basis for evaluating your investment priorities. It’s likely that you will need to invest in user experience and content development as well as technology and analytics infrastructure. Change can be disruptive, so make sure that you also account for the organizational change impact of your transmedia strategy.

Choosing the right team to perform the gap analysis is imperative to your success in identifying the key areas and priorities for investment.

5. Develop a project charter

Who in your organization needs to sign off on realizing your transmedia strategy?

Beware of opposition from within. Launching a transmedia brand strategy may disrupt the status quo of your organization. Make sure you do the hard work of gaining alignment with your key stakeholders before you launch the initiative, to avoid long and expensive delays that may compromise the integrity of your story world.

The project charter is an invaluable document for ensuring consensus. Make sure it clearly and succinctly communicates the transmedia strategy, the business value, the areas of investment, and the organizational change management required.

Hollywood storytelling series

This post is the third in a series on Hollywood storytelling. Jeff’s first post, 5 ways to bring your brand to life with Hollywood storytelling, makes a case for transmedia storytelling as the future of marketing and offers five tips for how to put transmedia marketing to work for your organization. His second post, Bring the power of Hollywood storytelling to your brand, outlines three approaches to building a transmedia marketing campaign and provides case studies of highly successful campaigns.

Slalom Consulting's Jeff Barber

Jeff Barber is a delivery leadership consultant in Slalom’s Seattle office, specializing in mobile and digital business transformation. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @MobileTechJeff.


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